Plutarch (essay date c.105-c.115)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Is Herodotus Malicious?" in Greek Historical Thought: From Homer to the Age of Heraclitus, translated by Arnold J. Toynbee, The Beacon Press, 1950, pp. 229-36.

[Plutarch was a Greek biographer and essayist on morals whose works achieved their greatest influence during the Renaissance. Here, he takes strong exception to Herodotus, warning his readers to be wary of the superficial appeal and "charm" of Herodotus' historical writing, which, Plutarch claims, is rife with malicious "slanders " and "grotesquely false ideas. " This essay is believed to have been written between the years 105 and 115.]

Many readers of Herodotus are taken in by his plain, unlaboured,...

(The entire section is 2315 words.)

Thomas De Quincey (essay date 1842)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Philosophy of Herodotus," in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, Vol. LI, No. CCCXV, January, 1842, pp. 1-21.

[An English critic and essayist, De Quincey used his own life as the subject of his best-known work, Confessions of an English Opium Eater (1822), in which he chronicled his addiction to opium. He contributed reviews to a number of London journals and earned a reputation as an insightful if occasionally longwinded literary critic. At the time of De Quincey's death, his critical expertise was underestimated, though his talent as a prose writer had long been acknowledged. In the twentieth century, some critics still disdain the digressive qualities of De Quincey's writing,...

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Frank Byron Jevons (essay date 1900)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Herodotus," in A History of Greek Literature: From the Earliest Period to the Death of Demosthenes, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1900, pp. 306-27.

[In the following essay, Jevons provides a general introduction to the History, addressing Herodotus's rhetorical methods and beliefs and considering his credibility as a travel narrator.]

Halicarnassus, the birthplace of Herodotus, was situated on the south-west coast of Asia Minor, and was originally occupied by Carians. Dorian emigrants from Troezene then settled there, and for some time the place belonged to a confederation consisting of six Dorian cities, but eventually was excluded or withdrew from the...

(The entire section is 8096 words.)

T.R. Glover (essay date 1924)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Story and the Book," in Herodotus, University of California Press, 1924, pp. 37-75.

[In the following essay, Glover provides an overview of the History, discussing the development of Herodotus 's methods, his goals as an historian, and his use of written and oral sources.]


It is not often we are in a position to know how the impulse came to a great artist to produce what has proved to be his masterpiece. Probably, as a rule it comes after long preparation, which has been less conscious than instinctive. The subject drew him; he thought much upon it; then one day he saw it in a new way, and wondered, and then perhaps...

(The entire section is 10750 words.)

E. M. W. Tillyard (essay date 1954)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Greek Historians: Herodotus," in The English Epic and Its Background, Oxford University Press, 1954, pp. 41-51.

[Tillyard was a scholar of English literature best known for his work on Shakespeare and the English Renaissance. In the following essay, Tillyard provides a concise overview of the History, addressing the epic character of Herodotus's writing, and calling him "the authentic voice of the Greek world in its expansive phase. "]

For someone intending to treat history philosophically the study of Herodotus is sufficient. There he will find everything that has gone into the making of all subsequent world history: the...

(The entire section is 4946 words.)

Richmond Lattimore (essay date 1958)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Composition of the History of Herodotus," in Classical Philology, Vol. LII, No. 1, January, 1958, pp. 9-19.

[In the following essay, Lattimore, a noted classicist, explores a series of textual and structural problems in the History. He provides a detailed analysis of Herodotus's compositional methods and considers the constraints on writing and historical research that Herodotus faced.]

The general problem. Concerning the composition of the History of Herodotus, one must choose between two general propositions. Either Herodotus wrote his book so that the parts always stood substantially in the order in which we now have...

(The entire section is 6603 words.)

Aubrey de Sélincourt (essay date 1962)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Scepticism and Credulity in Herodotus," in The World of Herodotus, Little, Brown and Company, 1962, pp. 53-67.

[In the following essay, de Sélincourt provides a sketch of religious thought in the time of Herodotus and discusses the Greek concepts of fate, pride, and guilt. De Sélincourt notes Herodotus's religious credulity, but also detects in the History a sceptical intelligence.]

One way in which the artist differs from the rest of us is that he knows better than we do what to leave out. A sculptor, knowing which bits of stone are irrelevant to his purpose, chips them away. Knowledge of what to leave out makes the difference between a good talker...

(The entire section is 6090 words.)

Charles W. Fornara (essay date 1971)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Herodotus' Perspective," in Herodotus: An Interpretative Essay, Oxford University Press, 1971, pp. 59-74.

[In the following essay, Fornara contrasts Herodotus with Thucydides, suggesting that while Thucydides wrote for posterity, Herodotus's History addresses chiefly his own generation. Defending Herodotus against scholars who have found the History inconsistent and unscientific, Fornara calls him "essentially an artist" who mixes historical narrative with drama.]

Thucydides believed and claimed that he had written … a possession for all time. The boast may have struck his contemporaries as arrogant and rhetorical. To the modern world it...

(The entire section is 4914 words.)

Oswyn Murray (essay date 1972)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Herodotus and Hellenistic Culture," in The Classical Quarterly, Vol. XXII, No. 2, November, 1972, pp. 200-13.

[In the following essay, Murray traces the influence of Herodotus on early Hellenistic historiography and ethnography, detecting evidence of familiarity with Herodotus in the works of Hecataeus of Abdera, Nearchus, and Megasthenes. Accepting that Herodotus's influence had declined by the late Hellenistic period, Murray nonetheless contends that the History had a broad and lasting impact on Hellenistic understanding of the world.]

Our understanding of the world is not static; it can both expand and contract, and it can also stagnate. In history...

(The entire section is 6205 words.)

J.A.S. Evans (essay date 1982)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Sources: The Evidence for Written Sources," in his Herodotus, Twayne Publishers, 1982, pp. 142-53.

[Evans is professor of classics at the University of British Columbia, Canada. In the following excerpt, he finds little clear evidence that Herodotus relied on written sources. He describes Herodotus instead as an original researcher and interviewer whose History synthesizes the claims of a variety of mostly oral informants, including the guardians of official oral traditions, keepers of family genealogy, and individual storytellers.]

Some four centuries after Herodotus, another historian from Halicarnassus, Dionysius, briefly described the beginnings...

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David Grene (essay date 1987)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: An introduction to The History: Herodotus, translated by David Grene, University of Chicago Press, 1987, pp.1-32.

[In the following essay, Grene focuses on the dramatic and literary artistry in the History. Contrasting Herodotus with Thucydides, he contends that Herodotus's genius lies in his imaginative interpretation of past events.]

Herodotus' only slightly younger contemporary, Thucydides, rejects the historical account of remote events in very telling terms; he does so at about the date of Herodotus' probable death. Thucydides says that even such a careful (and barely sketched) account as he is forced to give of an earlier Greece, as background for...

(The entire section is 13450 words.)

Donald Lateiner (essay date 1990)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Deceptions and Delusions in Herodotus," Classical Antiquity, Vol. 9, No. 2, October, 1990, pp. 230-46.

[In the following excerpt, Lateiner focuses on the question of credulity and deception in the History. Lateiner notes Herodotus's admiration for ingenious trickery, but also considers, by appeal to the case of Salmoxis, his skeptical and cautious treatment of religious charlatanism.]

Not every self-interested charlatan is condemned in any society that values ingenuity. The Hellenes admired the lies of shrewd Odysseus, worshipped Hermes, patron of thieves and sharp entrepreneurs, and found admirable the hedgehog deceits and shams of Aristophanes' comic...

(The entire section is 4940 words.)

J. A. S. Evans (essay date 1991)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Imperialist Impulse," in Herodotus, Explorer of the Past: Three Essays, Princeton University Press, 1991, pp. 9-40.

[In the following essay, Evans discusses Herodotus 's treatment of the causes of the Persian invasion of Greece, focusing on the imperialist motives of Xerxes, the fall of Croesus, and the concepts of nomos, aitia and fate that colored Herodotus's account of the Persian Wars.]

Nine years after their defeat at Marathon, the Persians were ready once again to invade Greece. The Greeks owed a debt of gratitude to Egypt for the delay. For three years after the defeat, Darius had prepared a new assault to wipe out the disgrace, but then...

(The entire section is 13458 words.)